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Connecting Britain: Getting the infrastructure right

Matt Spencer, O2’s Head of Public Sector Sales, discusses the mobile infrastructure we need to underpin the UK’s growth and competitiveness

At O2’s Blue Door Conference in October, I hosted a Deep Dive session called Connecting Britain, where we considered connectivity and the emerging mobile technology that will transform business in the UK in the years ahead.

In the weeks following the conference I wrote two blog posts – the first about our collective responsibility to tackle digital exclusion and to connect the unconnected – and the second about the Internet of Things (IoT) and why it matters. In this third post, I want to focus on the mobile infrastructure that we need to underpin the UK’s growth and competitiveness in future.

5G evolution

Following our 5G launch in October, O2’s 5G rollout is expected to be live in 20 towns and cities by the end of 2019 and 50 by the Summer of 2020. We’re focusing on rolling out our 5G network in locations where our customers need it most.

Unlike previous connectivity launches, 5G is about more than just speed and low latency. To enable the IoT in business, for example, connectivity needs to penetrate further and deeper inside buildings than we’ve needed to with either 3G or 4G. That’s why we’re working with leading businesses to really understand how different types of businesses, in a broad range of sectors, will use and benefit from 5G.

For example, we’re working with Wayra to create 5G innovation spaces across the country, to make next generation 5G test environments accessible to businesses of all sizes. And we are undertaking 5G trials in collaboration with a number of partners in areas such as intelligent transport systems, preventative maintenance and remote training.

We have a real opportunity to create a mobile infrastructure that will underpin the UK’s growth and competitiveness for the next decade. There is every incentive to do so. Melissa Giordano, Deputy Director for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, quoted research from Imperial College Business School, which showed that a 10% increase in broadband penetration leads to a 2.8% increase in GDP.


Melissa is also responsible for Mobile coverage, 5G and Spectrum policy. She spoke about the regulatory infrastructure that makes the UK’s current connectivity work, and how it needs to adapt to changing technologies.

She observed that the current distinction between fixed and mobile broadband is now largely redundant, yet we still have a legal framework where fixed broadband providers have different obligations and privileges to the other providers. As a result, Melissa cautioned that getting the right infrastructure will require updating codes, laws and regulatory frameworks, and these won’t happen overnight.

It’s not just about 5G

Naturally, anyone writing about mobile infrastructure in 2019 wants to focus on 5G. After all, we have been working on O2’s 5G service for more than two years now, and our launch in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Slough and London in October feels like the start of something transformative and very special. The fact is that it is both of these things, but we need to remember that full 5G coverage for everyone is still some way off, and that existing technologies still have a substantial role to play in the future.

Karl Liriano is Head of Network Evolution at O2. During the Connecting Britain session, Karl talked about how investment and improvement in the 4G network would continue for several years to come. In the first six months of 2019, for example, O2 enhanced 4G capacity and improved throughput by up to 35% for approximately 500,000 postcodes.

In fact, the path towards complete 5G coverage depends very much on O2’s continued investment in 4G. We currently invest more than £2 million a day to grow and improve our network, which includes Spectrum Re-farming, where we re-purpose our current 2G and 3G spectrum holdings to provide more 4G capacity.

Shared Rural Network

It can be difficult for some communities to hear how important 5G is when they struggle to get a decent 3G or 4G signal because of where they live. Only 67% of UK landmass receives 4G coverage from all four operators, while about 7% of the UK receives no 4G coverage from any operator.

At his Blue Door Conference address, our own CEO, Mark Evans, spoke about the importance of the Shared Rural Network, a proposal that will see the four mobile network operators open up and share existing masts and infrastructure to remove nearly all the areas of the country where there is coverage only from at least one of them but not all of them.

So I was delighted when, barely a week later, the government put its weight behind the Shared Rural Network, and it looks set to become a reality. The SRN will increase all-operator geographic coverage from the current level of 67% to 92%, Partial Not Spots will almost all disappear and over 3,700 square miles of the UK will be covered by 4G for the first time. It goes some way to help to connect the unconnected, which I wrote about in a previous blog post.

Getting started

Wherever you are with your digital transformation, there’s no reason to delay getting the right connectivity infrastructure in place. O2 Gateway is a software defined connectivity platform that gets Wifi, WAN and mobile working together as one, under one provider, with a single agreement. As 5G coverage grows, so will O2 Gateway, providing you with a future-proof connectivity environment. You can find out more here.


What will 5G do for your business? I’d love to hear from you. You can connect with me on LinkedIn.

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